My Dinner with Moolah

Before I begin, let me say that I never expected to write this. This is a story that mostly gets told after a few beers when my friends and I are reminiscing about growing up. This was around 15 years ago and I’m recalling it as best I can. Obviously, there’s no way I can verify it, and it’s easy to dismiss any and everything in today’s Internet culture, because people will say anything for attentionbut the story is real. I have literally nothing to gain from making any of this up. If you don’t believe me, that’s your choice; but I’m the one that lived it.

With that out of the way, here’s the story.

It’s late 2003 or early 2004 in Columbia, South Carolina. I’m in my first year of college and working at a pizza joint that I won’t name, but it rhymes with “Meatza Butt”. It’s a Thursday night and I’m doing deliveries, hoping to make enough in tips to have a half-decent weekend that will mostly consist of Xbox and sodium-filled microwaveable snacks. That’s life in a college town, especially in the south. 

Anyway, I’m hanging out in the shop, doing nothing in particular, and my boss yells, “Order up!” Finally! I lift it up the bag and it’s… one pizza. One. Single. Pizza. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but that sucks for a delivery driver. Small orders mean small tips. There’s no way this run is going to tip much. I remember thinking, “Man, they better at least cover gas money.”

I glance at the address and get really confused. Moolah Drive? That’s not a real road. Somebody is trying to trick me, or worse, jump me.

“Hey Donnie!” I shout to my manager. “You ever hear of this place before?”

Donnie comes over, takes a look at the address slip, and rolls his eyes. “Seriously, young buck, don’t you know anything? It’s Thursday night. You’re going to see The Fabulous Moolah!”

If you’ve read my articles before, you know I grew up as a wrestling fan. But Moolah was way before my time and mostly associated with the now-WWE. I was a WCW kid. But growing up in Columbia and being around pro wrestling a lot, one couldn’t help but have heard of The Fabulous Moolah. She was a local legend. Columbia may be a state capital, but it was basically just a small town, and local celebrities were taken very seriously. People like Alex English, Jermaine O’Neal, and The Big Show (yep, another wrestling South Carolina native) were treated like kings. So it seemed like everybody knew about Moolah and her private house on Moolah Drive, where she housed other wrestlers, her rich history, and her contributions to women’s professional wrestling. 

Mary Lillian Ellison, aka The Fabulous Moolah

Everyone except for me.

Outside of knowing Moolah was a wrestler back when my dad was a kid, I had no clue who she was, where she lived, or why she was so important. So obviously, I didn’t know why she was hated, either (we’ll get to that later). But at that time, everybody at the shop knew that when SmackDown was coming on, Moolah ordered a pizza. And you’d better have it at her door before the matches began.

So I loaded up and drove my old, busted ‘88 Cutlass over to Drexel Lake. It was an old, sleepy neighborhood. You could tell that it was probably a really nice neighborhood in the “baby boomer” era, but at that time, it was just old and sleepy. Not run down, just the kind of place where you expect to see a lot of grandparents. Trees and Buicks lined the streets. And my old, busted 88′ Cutlass.

There’s literally no reason to have a picture of my Cutlass in this article, other than to reinforce how old and busted it was. Piece. Of. Crap.

In any case, I was heading over there with no pretense. As far as I knew, this was just an old lady that wrestled back in the day. I pulled onto “Moolah Drive” and, just like Donnie said, there was only one house. The driveway was fairly long and I pulled up to see an older woman waiting outside for me. It wasn’t MoolahI’m fairly certain it was Mae Young. Again, I was not very familiar with either one. At that time, I don’t think I’d even heard of Mae Young, so this is my best guess based on what people “in the know” have told me. In any case, the nice old lady yelled “Pizza!”, then took me by the hand and walked me inside. 

The room I walked into was so… odd. It had all the makings of your standard “old lady” living room: Old decor. The lingering smell of moth balls. Faded, off-colored pictures on the wall. An odd-looking, swivel coffee table that was apparently the only type of coffee table you could buy between 1975 and 1989.

You know the one…

But at the same time, it was a full-on pro wrestling museum. More autographed memorabilia than I could ever remember lined the living room walls, including several belts, one of which was the WWF Women’s Championship. It was literally like someone took the kinds of things I would collect and placed them in my grandma’s house. It was old and homely, but at the same time, it was living history.

And sitting at the table, right as SmackDown was coming on the old tube TV, was The Fabulous Moolah herself. She was staring so intently at the screen that I don’t think she was even aware of my presence. Another woman sat in the room who I think was her daughter, but I can’t be sure. There was also an older man, sitting at the table, waiting for pizza. To this day, I have no idea who he was, but I know he was old enough to be my grandfather’s grandfather. 

Mae walked over to the table and said, “Lillian! Lillian! This young man brought your dinner!”

Moolah finally turned towards me, saw the food, and smiled. I brought it over and set it on the table, and she patted my hand and said, “Thank you, dearie,” or something just as grandmotherly. While they were gathering up the money, I just stared at all the history that was in front of me. I couldn’t believe that, after all these years, Moolah was still keeping up with modern WWE. And she looked like she was actually enjoying herself.

Moolah gave Mae some cash and she walked over and handed me the money for the pizza. “This is for the dinner, young man.” Then she put another $15 in my hand and said, “And that’s for you.”

Do you know what $15 was to a broke 18-year-old in 2004? I couldn’t have been happier! When I got back to the shop, I found out that apparently, as long as you get the food there before the show starts, they treated you pretty well. From that point on, if I worked a Thursday night, I did everything I could to end up on that route. I didn’t make it back to her place that many more times while I kept that job, but when I did, everyone in that house was very sweet to me. 

You have to understand something: I was a lower-middle class black kid growing up in a red state where the Confederate flag was literally everywhere. There were plenty of neighborhoods and areas I ended up on my route where I was so nervous and on edge, I wouldn’t even get out of the car, let alone allow someone to walk me into their house. There were plenty of people who were perfectly fine with being not so nice to me because of the color of my skin. But I never felt nervous going to Moolah’s. Why that is, I don’t know. Maybe they were genuinely nice, or maybe they were too old to care. But I never had a problem.

Susie Mae McCoy, aka Sweet Georgia Brown

Of course, if you know who the Fabulous Moolah is, you probably know what’s coming next. A couple of years later, The Free Times put out the story of Sweet Georgia Brown and the accusations came flying in. For the uninitiated, in 2006, The Free Times reported that several children of Sweet Georgia Brown, the first African American women’s wrestling champion, were accusing Moolah of exploiting their mother. Allegedly, she sold her to be abused and raped by various wrestling promoters and got her hooked on drugs to control her.  Reading the story is heartbreaking on many levels.

After the story came out, more former wrestlers and promoters came forward and cosigned on the story. These are just some of the allegations:

  • Stealing money from girls she promoted
  • Taking money from her students, but refusing to train them
  • Constant, alcohol-fueled abuse of her students
  • Racism against Black and Hispanic wrestlers
  • Pimping lesser-known female wrestlers out to male wrestlers and promoters for money
  • Violent homophobia (though she also allegedly had homosexual relationships)
  • Charging unreasonable amounts of money for food, clothing, and shelter so the female wrestlers that worked for her would be unable to quitor pay off their debt

I remember reading it and feeling absolutely disgusted with the things she had allegedly did. How could that sweet old woman have been such a monster? Less than a year after I read that article, though, Moolah was dead. Whatever skeletons she had in the closet died with her. The people that knew her and worked with her are left to tell the story of her legacy; a legacy that’s spotty and blurred, to say the least.

Looking back, I don’t know how I feel about Moolah. I’ve been asked if I consider myself a Moolah fan, and I have no clear answer for that. I think she did a lot for women’s wrestling, but she also set it back a lot as well. And while I think she loved wrestling, at the end of the day I think she loved herself more. There is never a situation where accusations of sexual assault should not be taken seriously. But in my limited interactions with her, I never got the sense that she could have been capable of the things she was accused of.

But I can’t discount the people that accused her. They worked with her for years. I delivered her pizza when I was in college. I’m not exactly on their level.

Some people think that it’s set in stone that Moolah was a horrible person and a blight on the industry. Others say she didn’t do anything wrong and was a pioneer of women’s wrestling. I don’t know either way. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. None of us can read minds or hearts, so who knows what was really going on in that house for the decades when she was running the school. All I can tell you are the facts: I met her more than once. She was always sweet. And she tipped very well.

Moral of the story, and something we can all hopefully agree on: You should always tip the people who serve your food.

Alex Watts

Alex is a lifelong sports fan and writer that has (against the better judgement of several producers and program directors) appeared on ESPN Radio and CBS Sports Radio. He lives in Washington D.C. with his wife, 1 child, 1 cat and an unhealthy amount of video game consoles.

Alex Watts

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